Meet Linda Calhoun
In late 1995, I finally began to do work that I found rewarding in so many ways, financially, intellectually, and emotionally. I was a knowledge worker doing international development projects in the former Soviet Union.
While doing this work, I thought back to my youth as a first-generation college student. I am the daughter of parents who were the first in their family to graduate high school and the grand-daughter of folks who never went beyond eighth grade in the Jim Crow South.
I would look around at our contractor meetings, and there would be a few women, but no one else of color. In moments like those, I knew the only reason that I was in the room was because of what I knew and what I was passionate about. And I also knew if I could be in that room, any girl could be if they knew the steps to take to get there. That’s the fertile soil where the idea and impetus for my philanthropy began to take shape.
Around the same time, I was floored by the story of Osceola McCarty – an 87-year-old single, childless woman who took in laundry from Hattiesburg, Mississippi, and saved enough money to fund an endowment at Southern Mississippi University for a scholarship for a child of African descent. I can barely type these words without tears of joy and pride for this remarkable woman. If she, who went without for her entire life, could give so generously to the next generation, how could I not do my part?
The wheels of my destiny as a philanthropist were fully set in motion.
Like most things in life, it wasn’t a straight progression from consultant to philanthropist. Still, thanks to Ms. McCarty, I had a north star. When the opportunity to give became available, there was no question what I would do. I would dedicate my life to amplifying the voices of women role models to inspire, educate, and empower girls. I had to make it easier for the girls coming up behind me.
The focus of my philanthropy is centered on founding Career Girls – which is based on the dream that every girl around the world has access to diverse and accomplished women role models — to learn from their experiences and to discover their own path to empowerment.
The impact of Career Girls can be measured in several ways. There are our website analytics (over 12 million page views), and then there are things that I see and experience in my heart. At workshops, I have seen the change in posture, a sense of pride and ownership from girls of all backgrounds, and I have seen boys begin to view girls differently. I love that we are disrupting stereotypes about who can be smart, successful, ambitious, etc. We also regularly receive testimonials from girls around the world, sharing how we have had an impact on their lives. And as a bonus, we also witness a change in our role models. Sharing stories also empowers the storyteller.
Recently, I am excited that our organization is “owning the AI careers space.” We have already interviewed over 50 diverse and accomplished women working in Artificial Intelligence, Data Science, Machine Learning, and Robotics. I am a fervent believer that we MUST have diverse perspectives when designing the technology that is going to touch every single persons’ life. It cannot be just one group creating the algorithms and determining how humans will interact with autonomous vehicles, robots, and cobots. We need diverse groups providing the data sets that machines will use to “learn”.
That is why I am thrilled to introduce our special career exploration video series on Artificial Intelligence in April 2020. We will provide inspiring videos to close the imagination gap for the types of careers that exist. We will pair that video with classroom lesson plans, learning guides, and fun activities for students, educators, and family members.
What drew me to be part of the WMM community was its core belief that women and girls are agents of change in their own lives and communities, and it is our duty as women philanthropists to support them. Alone, I can only go so far in growing Career Girls. By joining with other women philanthropists, I know our impact will be greater.
Let’s make Osceola McCarty proud!